NM WRRI Hosts Hybrid 2022 Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference
By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Specialist
Nearly seven years following the August 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill, and after a gap due to Covid-19, the Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference returned to Farmington, New Mexico, with a slate of associated events along with the main conference plenary sessions taking place on June 7-11, 2022. Building on the experience gained from virtual events over the past two years, NM WRRI also offered a free, simultaneous Zoom option for attendees, making this the first hybrid conference hosted by NM WRRI. Nearly 200 in-person and virtual attendees learned about a broad array of watershed health topics affecting the Animas and San Juan Watersheds, including restoration and remediation efforts related to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill.
Day One presentations included updates on efforts from the Bonita Peak Mining District Community Advisory Group, and Trout Unlimited’s Ty Churchwell on efforts to get a Good Samaritan law for the remediation of hardrock mines passed at the federal level. Presentations also encompassed a wider range of regional watershed issues, such as the San Juan Watershed Group’s presentation on their microbial source tracking study in the San Juan River, the New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) overview of funding opportunities available through their River Stewardship Program, current efforts of the San Juan Water Commission, the history and development of the Lee Acres Water Users Association, and research from the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center at Farmington (NMSU ASC Farmington) concerning corn and potato yields, among other compelling presentations. This first conference day concluded with a poster session reception featuring five posters. All permissible presentation slides, posters, and videos will be available at the conference website.
Day Two began with a morning of presentations by the U.S. Geological Survey and Navajo Nation EPA concerning various hydro-geochemistry studies taking place in the watershed. The final afternoon of the conference featured talks by New Mexico State Climatologist Dave DuBois on the climate outlook of the San Juan Basin, Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist Susan Behery on the operations of Navajo Dam and Reservoir, before concluding with an overview of the WIIN Act projects given jointly by the NMED and Utah Department of Environmental Quality, and finally a summary of a Gold King Mine spill restoration plan shared by the NM Office of the Natural Resources Trustee. Also making a surprise appearance on Thursday, June 9, was U.S. Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández, who delivered remarks to the conference audience.
This year’s conference was fortunate enough to feature a number of pre- and post-conference events. Before the June 8 conference commencement, NM WRRI helped coordinate a pre-conference event held in the Navajo Nation. The “Shiprock Sustainability Fair,” organized by partners from NM WRRI, the NMSU ASC Farmington, and The University of Arizona, featured several demonstration areas ringed around the outside of the Shiprock Chapter House. Co-organizer Dr. Karletta Chief presented one of her off-grid solar-powered water treatment units, while fellow event organizers Dr. Kevin Lombard and Brandon Francis of the NMSU ASC Farmington demonstrated onsite XRF soil testing of community soil samples and showcased a greenhouse with a raised-bed garden that was installed at the Dream Diné Charter School next door to the chapter house. More than 100 local community members were served lunch provided by local Navajo venues before a number of door prizes were given out following the luncheon.
On June 10, the day after conference presentations, attendees had the opportunity to participate in a day of tours that included a morning tour of the NMSU ACS Farmington lead by superintendent Dr. Kevin Lombard, and featured an overview and several stops around Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI) facilities lead by NAPI Director of Sales and Marketing, Vincent Cowboy. After returning from this field trip, attendees were welcomed at Growing Forward Farm in Aztec, NM. The 12-acre farm is managed by the NMSU San Juan County Cooperative Extension Office, and since its inception in 2020, serves as a community agricultural education resource.
On the morning of June 11, attendees were treated to one final field trip, a rafting float trip through the confluence of the Animas and San Juan Rivers led by Desert River Guides of Farmington, New Mexico, that also included a site visit to view a portion of the Animas/Berg Park Fire Mitigation Project. This multi-year effort has removed portions of invasive Russian Olive and Salt Cedar, and seeks to regrow native trees in the parks. While floating down the lower Animas and into the San Juan River, trip operator Cody Dudgen shared the future plans of local river recreation advocates such as Desert River Guides. These plans include expanding the presence of outdoor recreation options in that portion of the watershed through river hazard removal, the installation of new man-made rapids, and a new boat landing in the Westland Park area of Farmington.
NM WRRI thanks the planning committee members, presenters, and all the attendees who helped make this year’s conference a success, and looks forward to welcoming participants again at next year’s Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference.